First Person with Dr. Bavani Rajah: APIDA Heritage Month Reflections

In recognition of APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) Heritage Month, we’re spotlighting Dr. Bavani Rajah, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry Fellow, and asked her to reflect on her career path and culture. In this Q&A she discusses what motivated her decision to pursue psychiatry, why it’s important to her to continue challenging the stigma around mental health, and what makes her feel most connected to her Sri Lankan culture.

Q: Can you tell me about an experience that influenced your career path? 

A: Throughout medical school, I had always aspired to be a pediatrician, but I kept an open mind during my third-year rotations. My psychiatry rotation completely took me by surprise and was unique in that I got to spend so much time talking with my patients. I found that while I enjoyed caring for children and adolescents, my true passion was getting to know my patients and the unique social and developmental challenges they face. By my fourth year I knew that I wanted to be a child psychiatrist so that I could intervene at the first signs of mental illness and improve my patient’s functioning to enable them and their families to live happier and healthier lives. 

Q: What motivates you in your career today? 

A: Although our societal discussions about mental health have come a long way, there is still a significant amount of stigma and disinformation around seeking mental health treatment and what psychiatric treatment looks like. I’m motivated to address these issues and change attitudes associated with mental health, especially in vulnerable, young people through my clinical work and research interests in digital health. 

Q: Can you talk about the importance of diversity/representation in psychiatry? 

A: According to the American Psychiatric Association, racial/ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities often suffer from poor mental health outcomes due to multiple factors including inaccessibility of high-quality mental health care services, cultural stigma surrounding mental health care, discrimination, and overall lack of awareness about mental health. Clinicians who come from diverse backgrounds are a much-needed asset to combat health access disparities in minority communities and may encourage families who may be reluctant to seek treatment. 

Q: Do you have any words of advice for young people interested in medicine? 

A: There are plenty of inspiring and distinguished physician-scientists out there who would love to offer advice or shadowing opportunities. Join medical student organizations and seek out mentors that you truly connect with! 

Q: How do you choose to celebrate APIDA Heritage Month or how do you feel most connected to your culture?

A: I feel most connected to my culture when enjoying and sharing Sri Lankan food with my family and friends. Spicy food is good for the soul (and sinuses!).  

Q: Do you have a favorite APIDA-owned business in Chicago readers should try? 

A: Mughal Bakery in Little India/Devon Ave. Their savory puff pastries are so delicious and there are tons of cookie varieties to try! 

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